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Ray Duckler

Ray Duckler: Administrators weigh in on a smoking topic

Ben Thompson smokes a celebratory cigar after Hopkinton High School's commencement in Durgin Arena at the Hopkinton Fairgrounds on Friday, June 6, 2014.  Thompson said it is a tradition.   

(ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

Ben Thompson smokes a celebratory cigar after Hopkinton High School's commencement in Durgin Arena at the Hopkinton Fairgrounds on Friday, June 6, 2014. Thompson said it is a tradition. (ARIANA van den AKKER / Monitor staff)

They might have felt like Red Auerbach, the late Celtics legend, while puffing on those cigars.

In the end, though, they were more red-faced than anything else.

I’m talking about the two high school lacrosse players in Massachusetts who were barred from the playoffs after the local paper showed them smoking cigars during the Beverly High graduation.

Auerbach smoked to celebrate all those championships, 16 of them, that he helped bring to Boston. He’d light up in the old Garden after the final game, the tip of the cigar glowing red, the smoke swirling around him a symbol of success.

But officials in Beverly weren’t thinking along those lines.

Closer to home, the Monitor chose not to run a photo of a Hopkinton High grad with a stogie in his mouth, believing the image might have deflected attention from the intended story.

Plus, our editor felt, the student’s action wasn’t newsworthy to the point where spiking the picture would have equaled censorship.

Now, though, you’ll notice we’ve packaged that photo with this column. Turns out the Hopkinton administration wouldn’t have minded, and the Beverly photo made ours relevant to an issue that’s become as hot as an Auerbach cigar.

Hopkinton High Principal Chris Kelley addressed the seniors before the school’s graduation ceremony, held at the Hopkinton Fair Grounds last Friday.

Plan on smoking a cigar to celebrate? Wait until you get outside of Durgin Arena, Kelley told his students.

“I asked them to do it outdoors,” Kelley said. “Being that it’s not on school grounds, being that they graduated school at that particular point, I’m not looking to enforce school rules after I’ve handed them their high school diploma. At that point in time, I’m not policing them.”

“It’s never been an issue. I’ve never been asked to look into a student athlete smoking a cigar.”

They looked into it at Beverly, and the result created a loud buzz. The boys missed their team’s 12-7 win over archrival Marblehead last Saturday in the North Division II title game.

And they watched helplessly as Beverly lost to Hingham in overtime, 9-8, yesterday in the state semifinals.

Their careers ended after the Beverly Citizen ran a graduation photo last week of three students puffing on cigars, the smoke floating away from the lacrosse players like the dreams they once had.

Newspaper, internet and radio reports portrayed a finger-pointing fight between the Beverly High administration and officials from the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association.

No one, the stories say, wanted to take responsibility for ending these athletic careers. No one wanted to look like a stick in the mud.

Both the principal and MIAA were attacked on the air and online, and the Salem News had this to say in an editorial:

“Leave it to the adults to stomp out the fun. We are referring, of course, to the small-minded actions of so-called ‘grown-ups’ who left two Beverly High School lacrosse players on the sidelines this weekend as their teammates continued their run toward the state title.”

Here, where each district sets its own rules concerning school-sanctioned events, several principals contacted took the tough-love path when asked to comment on the Beverly controversy.

First off, it didn’t matter that the players were 18, old enough to legally smoke. And it didn’t matter that the Beverly graduation was held at Hurd Stadium, home field for the school’s football team, but not located on school property.

Rules are rules, and there are consequences for breaking them.

Tobacco is out, no matter where you are, no matter how old you are.

Like the Beverly graduation, Concord High’s was held off school grounds, at Memorial Field. That’s irrelevant, said Gene Connolly, the school’s principal.

“I would have sided with the folks in Beverly,” he said. “If you’re going to smoke at a school event, there will be consequences, and we would do the same thing.

“Now, at the same time, the consequence is so severe, so heartbreaking, that it makes it tough,” Connolly continued. “But if they knew the rule ahead of time, you’d hope they would exercise good judgment.”

Mike Jette, Merrimack Valley High’s principal, said communication has been his best ally in guarding against something like this.

He meets with seniors each year, he said, and asks for a small nugget of cooperation during MV’s graduation, which is short, maybe an hour.

As a result, Jette says, the school hasn’t seen this sort of controversy, Cigar-Gate, if you will, in about 20 years.

“I tell them all the celebrating should take place after, with family and friends at the barbecue,” Jette said. “Our approach is it’s a ceremony, not a celebration, so I don’t feel badly for the (Beverly) kids, because they made a choice and they knew what the ramifications would be.”

In this case, the smoke signals were clear.

(Ray Duckler can be reached at 369-3304 or rduckler@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @rayduckler.)

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